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Pick your maple-leaf September 30, 2005

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I rather like this image of Belarus being the foliage of a nice red tree. I think somewhere in the national consciousness, Belarus is meant to look like a maple-leaf (although this shape can hardly have mythical status as the current borders have only been as they are since the end of WWII, when Belarus got a chunk of what had been Poland), though I have also seen it referred to in poetry, here as a briar-rose (though this was nothing to do with shape, admittedly). This poem has the line Зялёны ліст, Чырвоны цьвет (O leaf of green, O flower of red), and makes me wonder if this is where the idea of a green and red flag for Soviet Belarus came from. The historic flag is white-red-white, and white is logical when we consider the name of the country (the Bela-bit means white.)

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Anyway, the Canadian flag depicts a rather more spiky leaf. (Pilfered from here.) Canada’s own symbol was a compromise choice, of course, but a successful bit of PR, in my view, as the flag has become one of the world’s most instantly recognisable. I imagine Belarus will rerestore its white-red-white flag if democracy ever settles in there… Canada holds a special place in the Belarusian diaspora psyche, as it does for Ukraine, and I’ve even heard one of the most famous Belarusian émigré(e)s Ivonka Survilla – in Canada, of course – being touted for president. And wasn’t the new Belarusian currency that never was, the taler – what a mythic name – printed up in Canada? It has never been introduced, so must be gathering dust somewhere, making someone very rich in a country that doesn’t yet exist.

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Go Wolfie! September 29, 2005

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How laughable that veteran peace campaigner Walter Wolfgang was detained under the Terrorism Act – yes, Terrorism Act – for trying to return to the arena where he had committed the grave terrorist offence of shouting, “Nonsense,” during a speech by Jack Straw. I won’t go in for alarmism and say, “Look where this is going. Any expression of dissent is going to be able to be smothered by this legislation.” I still believe that the UK’s democratic credentials are safe. But how utterly ludicrous that the word terrorism should come into the equation when the crime was to dare to spoil the perfect New Labour show. Must the performance really be so smooth that one word of criticism – and from a supporter, remember – must be snuffed out? Never could the words politically correct apply more fittingly.

More Hitler. More Germany September 28, 2005

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While I’m here, and while I’m referring to things out of date, such as the animation a couple of posts ago, and while I’m on about Hitler, I’m glad to be able to link to this review of Der Untergang. Glad because it’s taken me ages to find the full thing and not just a tempting snippet, and glad because I’m always glad to read the deeply impressive words of Edward Skidelsky, the cleverest man in England, who, I’m equally happy to say, is a friend. (Also SSEES and Berlin, though those are perhaps two of the less important locations on his life’s journey, I’m guessing.) (He’s charming and handsome as well as being obscenely clever, the sod.) He’s spot on about the film, which, I agree, isn’t brilliant, but still fascinates. I disagree a touch that Hitler and the Third Reich are taboo subjects in Germany, though you can certainly hear the snap of sphincters as they’re raised, but I couldn’t agree more that

Germany is still, to this extent, living under the shadow of Hitler; it is still a self-gagged, self-censored nation. The question raised by Thomas Mann in his postwar novel Doctor Faustus still awaits an answer: “How can ‘Germany’, whatever form it takes, ever again venture to open its mouth in human affairs?”

and I think most Germans are ignorant – blissfully or knowingly, I’m not sure – of the extent to which their history still dominates their present. To a foreigner here, it seems obvious, yet young Germans have tended to think I’m exaggerating when I’ve stated that I still think that period is one of – am I hesitating to write THE? I am – the central building-blocks of their current identity. Well, history and change – are they the same thing? – take time, of course, and Germany does become more and more normal with time. Maybe normalisation will accelerate once living memories of that time are gone. But, as Ed points out, Germany still awaits its answer.

Titten. Tiere. Hitler. September 28, 2005

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Now don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my blodogging/doblogging. Really I do. But if you’re in a perturbed mood – I’m still ignoring a deadline – you might occasionally realise you need to sex up your blog if you’d like a drop more feedback or to attract new readers. So what should be the method? My dearest friend in the world, who works in magazines, said the standard way of getting readership up – pardon the pun – was to slap in a few more scantily-clad babes. Actually, his answer was more succinct. When asked, “What gets the readership figures up?”, he answered, “Tits.” It’s hardly an unknown formula, and there’s a little German adage quoted above which spells out three things that will always get the readers gagging for more. For those of you unfamiliar with the language of Goethe and Schiller, it translates as, “Tits. Animals. Hitler.” In Germany, at least, it is the latter which has them coming back for more even more than the former. Well, don’t hold your breath for too many buxom beauties (or rabble-rousing photos of Prince Harry) on these pages. I’ll carry on plugging away. It’s fun to do. But all write and let me know you love me once in a while, for god’s sake!

“In fact without one you’ll become a practical nonentity, it is the card that proves you have a national identity” September 28, 2005

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I meant to link to this absolutely marvellous animation when I first came across it in the summer but somehow forgot and then couldn’t find it again. But thanks to the wonderful blog search which I somehow hadn’t noticed before – is it new(ish)? – it soon had me rolling in the aisles again. As it’s so long ago, I can’t remember whom to tip my hat to, as tradition demands, but it’s bound to have been either this excellent blog or this excellent blog. (Sorry, can’t plug this excellent blog on this occasion as it hadn’t yet graced our screens back then…)

Nuclear Australia September 28, 2005

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I’ve got a deadline looming so now seems the perfect time to pretend the work isn’t there and write something here instead. I’ve been scouring my regular reads, hoping something would inspire, would grab my attention and be the launchpad for a 2000-word rant about something or other. Well, alas, today I – and my sources – are less than inspired, but this, about Australia being a potential repository for the world’s nuclear waste, invited a smile because it reminds me of an equally controversial plan thought up by my very own father. When I was but a young slip of a thing in London, I had a little gaggle of Australian friends, people I’d met on my travels, and on one occasion, said Antipodeans dropped in with me to my parents’ place only to be told by my father NOT that Australia should put all that space to the good use of the world’s nuclear industries BUT that Australia should open up all that space for… a good chunk of the world population. There’s something almost sweetly naive in my father’s simple, one-size-fits-all logic. There are too many people in, say, Bangladesh, so pack ’em off to Australia, as well as half of China, India, Brazil and the South East of England too, no doubt. My Australian gaggle smiled politely, realising they were talking to an ideological dinosaur who’d never travelled further than Boulogne-sur-Mer. Might there be a reason why people have chosen to live in the South East of England, say, and not at the North Pole or in the Australian outback (in any great numbers)? Water, say? Climate, say?

On the nuclear theme, I’ve got a feeling I haven’t worked out yet why I need to be against nuclear energy. I know security concerns must be paramount, both as regards the technology getting into the wrong hands and Chernobyl-style accidents, but that’s not an argument against. Then again, there is an obvious dilemma here in that if nuclear energy’s profile becomes solid and respectable, how can it be justifiable to stop any nation that wants to using it? Will it be decided only we with a cultural/democratic heritage in Greece have the right to make use of it? This one’s got legs…

Tekiah September 27, 2005

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Now I may hardly know my Sukkot from my Simchat Torah, but I do know the Jewish New Year is just around the corner so to get you in the mood in good time, watch this, which I’ve been directed to from the ever-informative EINY. לשנה טובה

Art September 27, 2005

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I am enjoying the way the blog is instructing me to take its own course. I suppose when starting out, you have whatever funny, queer intentions you half-have and think, ‘My blog will do this, and say this, and be like this.’ Well, with time, your blog settles into itself, and into you, and you understand what you want from the bastard. And I’ve realised that what I want from mine is for it to be – apart from a dogging diary – an alternative way of getting to my ‘favourites’, for it to be a quick reference point for nice things I want to look at, i.e. other blogs, the occasional nice picture, tennis websites etc., without having to trawl through all the dreary sites I also store under ‘favourites’ for practical purposes (banks, job websites, technical stuff for the beyond-redemption translator). So now I am combining dogging diary with occasional nice picture – well, link to nice picture – by sharing with the world an artist who has randomly entered my life. A few works by Mr. Yurlov/Iurlov/Юрлов can be seen here.

Bordering on fun September 27, 2005

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Ah, now this brings back many a fond memory of travelling in and out of the former Soviet Union. I’ve actually commented on this before – sorry to self-reference – but the trading types mentioned in the BBC feature remind me so much of the women I would always meet on these journeys. I only crossed the Polish-Belarusian border once (and it takes bloody hours because of the different track gauge) on a train journey that took me all the way from St. Petersburg to Bialystok (24 hours). My neighbours in the carriage were two trader women – yes, going all the way from St. P. to Poland to flog their wares and make a (dis)honest crust, so the BBC person could have done even better than find someone from Hrodna – it’s not f***ing* called Grodno – just across the border – and a younger damsel who took far more of an interest in me, amazingly, when my exoticness became known. As with all those lovely long Russian train journeys, as DJ Lukeski should be able to attest to, we were soon best friends and yakking like nobody’s business. But, anyway, the trader women. Yes, they too talked – and this was back in 2000 – of how the border was getting harder to cross and that on every trip they risked losing their wares at the border. Presumably, the border guards/customs mostly turned a blind eye, but, on occasion, the whole lot would be seized and their journey would have been in vain. But, on the whole, it must have been worth it for them to still do it.

Their wares were fairly boring – clothes – in comparison to the traders who did the even more regular – and much more accessible – smuggle-shuttle between St. Petersburg and Helsinki. This journey only takes 8 hours or so by bus and the people doing it seem absolute regulars. One woman I chatted to told me she did it a couple of times a week. And this was strictly a booze cruise. These Russians would stuff as much booze and fags into whatever receptacle they could carry and, similarly to the Belarusian-Polish border, hope for the best from the officials on the Finnish-Russian border. The journey was timed perfectly. The bus would set off at night in party atmosphere. All these people knew each other and would proceed to get slaughtered in the bus and then pester all the non-trading types to ask if we’d sneak some stuff across the border for them too. And when the bus arrived in Helsinki the next morning, all the alcoholic Finns would be queueing up for their next dose of cheap booze and fags. The price difference between Russia and Finland is, not surprisingly, enormous and there was good money to be made. One of the drunk, lechy women doing the trading told me she’d given her daughter a good life on the proceeds and was putting her through uni, before moving away, as she saw me become ever less interested in her booze-fuelled bollocks, to administer fellatio to the man sitting on the other side of her.

Yes, it’s all go when it comes to borders…

(* the *** stand for uck)

Anti-Lukashenka walk September 27, 2005

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For anyone who feels like combining a bit of a stroll (or it may be a brisk walk, depending on the participants’ constitution) with a bit of anti-Lukashenka activity, there’s a 12km – lazy folk can be happy they’ve gone metric on this occasion – strut in London on October 15th, more details of which can be found here and here. I suppose Belarus may not be on everyone’s political abuse hotspot radar screen, but for those of you with a feline curiosity for nasty goings-on in the world of politics but less than a thorough background in affairs post-Soviet, Lukashenka is a straightforwardly nasty piece of work – no dilemma, no mitigating circumstances. Just a boorish fool with a whole country to ruin, and he’s doing a fine job of it. (The site advertising this walk, incidentally, appears to be a very good round-up of what all the post-Soviet ne’er-do-wells are up to.)

Sticking my oar in September 24, 2005

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Because I’m such a busy-body, and because I’ve been instructed I can’t take part, for perfectly good reasons, I still feel I somehow need to stick my oar in to this competition over at the diary of disenfranchised booksellers. Get commenting boys and galz…

Counting myself lucky September 24, 2005

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I suppose I should count myself lucky if one of the greatest tribulations in my life is getting a haircut. As unpleasant experiences go, it must be pretty low down on the horror-scale. But it is an experience I never fail to get wrong and I invariably leave the hairdresser’s disappointed and crestfallen. I suppose this is largely a probelm of assertiveness. I am the least assertive person on the planet and am hopeless at saying what I want, which is deeply unfashionable, and impractical, in these go-getting times. I was born to live in the England of fifty years earlier than the one I actually encountered at birth, where everyone would be tripping over themselves to be polite and putting others before oneself was the order of the day. (Still is for me, sometimes.)

So I enter the pristine establishment after prevarication – I had to be encouraged in today – and attempt to transmit to the ill-clad, female chav – an international uniform, it would seem – what I would like done. At which point she immediately embarked upon a smiley, enthusiastic, 2-minute spiel of her own interpretation of how matters should proceed in chav-dialect Berlinois, of which I understood not a word but noddingly agreed to readily and resignedly, my heart already beginning to sink. I had asked for a dry-cut, trying to keep the operation as close to my skin-flint intentions as possible, but she tempted me with extras, knowing – she could smell my Tommy genes – that I would say yes to every one of them, not knowing what they were – chav Berlinois – and certainly not wanting them. So I got the drink, the amount of sprayed water that meant this was no longer technically a dry-cut and the hair-dryer treatment at the end which all meant that by the time I’d left a tip larger than I wanted to – too polite to do otherwise – and been conned with the change – too polite to point out the chavette’s poor arithmetic – I left the establishment with hair shorter than I wanted, a considerably lighter pocket and self-confidence battered and bruised. (At least she didn’t bother to engage me in conversation.)

As I began my mope homewards through the over-lit shopping centre, I wondered why it was that a middle-aged(ish) man was incapable of asking for what he wanted from a 2-year-old girl displaying her generous midriff and with an arse a size too big for her. Why COULDN’T I say what I wanted? She wouldn’t have minded in the least obeying, presumably, and we’d all have been happier. But, anyway, to remind myself, I am lucky that this is the height of tribulation for me, but it must be redolent of a greater ill, and must half explain why it is I have to do a funny queer job, working at home. Living in a foreign language is no doubt partly to blame, and I’ve moaned about that on here before, so won’t harp on relentlessly. But if anyone has spotted a pamphlet, perhaps released by some helpful local authority in the UK, entitled, ‘How to say what you want at the hairdresser’s for an empowering experience to give you full ownership of your haircut in a non-native language,’ get the bastard DHLed to me…

Please, pretty please, if you wouldn’t mind awfully.

Two good things September 23, 2005

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stamp.gif
…about the UK have presented themselves to me today. Firstly, I got a letter with the Rising Damp stamp from the range pictured here (from the post office website). Yes, any country could do the same, of course, but I found it a hoot. And via the Beeb, I found this from the British Library. At times like these when we seem especially busy reminding ourselves how nasty everything is, it’s good to have a couple of highlights to brighten up the day. (Actually, it couldn’t be a more beautiful late-summer/early-autumn day here.)

‘Ullo, ‘Ullo, ‘Ullo September 23, 2005

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What’s goin’ on ‘ere then? (OK, enough of the apostrophes.) If you speak Russian (and have the patience of a saint), you can click here for comment on the second explosion in as many weeks in the northern Belarusian city of Vitebsk. (I’ve had to resist the temptation to transliterate from the Belarusian name of the city. I suppose Vitebsk can be accepted as an international form, and the city is not unknown in international circles as it is the birthplace of Chagall). The Beeb reports here (misspelling Belarusian for good measure). My first thought is that this is unlikely to be anything to do with democracy or Lukashenka. It’s probably just a local feud of some sort, albeit a pretty nasty one. And, anyway, when Lukashenka’s curtain call finally does come, I hope it will be via peaceful, even, dare I say it, democratic means. I fear a Ukraine analogy may be wishful thinking as there’s no Yushchenko figure in Belarus and the Ukrainians had already held mass protests before last year’s finally worked. But dum spiro spero.

Ossie iconography September 23, 2005

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Just to prove I’m not a wicked old Commie-hater (at least where aesthetics are concerned), I simply had to upload these lovely Trabant-pics from the ‘Bildergalerie’ on this site. I must confess to having a proper soft spot for crappy old cars. Another personal favourite, spotted on my travels around the wilds of Mitteleuropa (I daren’t say east any more, at least not when it comes to Polska) is the heavenlily plastic Syrena. If you’re going to make crap, at least make pretty crap. (I think Soviet town-planners should have been given this golden rule.) Actually, it’s not strictly correct to equate this type of car purely with the Eastern Bloc – although I’m sure our eastern cousins excelled in making crap just that little bit crappier – because my father had a range of British-made jalopies in the 70s (and perhaps earlier). Being a woofter, I’m going to have to do a spot of research with the hets in the family to find out exactly what they were, although I know he definitely had a couple of these, painted bright yellow, which, I think you’ll agree, are pretty god-damned gorgeous…

The big questions September 22, 2005

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Cor blimey! This week’s Spectator is asking/answering all the big questions. They’re majorly concentrating on race and culture this issue, but gayness is in there too, with the wise words of Petronella Wyatt. (Oh well, makes a change from her writing about e-bay and her press-up routine. I’m not sure I agree with her September-11th-having-made-woofters-manly theory, by the way. I think it’s more likely to have been an AIDS-related thing.) Anyway, they seem to have decided to have covered the lot this week. There’s Israel, the Raj, torture and Joan Collins too. Quite a read. (Not as much of it’s online as used to be the case, but it’s still a corkingly good free read.)

Another little joy from this week’s edition is that in Aidan Hartley’s section, there is mention of McCluskieganj, which deserves to be famous for its name alone. It was founded as an Anglo-Indian ‘colony’ when that community began to fear what would happen to it as independence for India drew near. I saw a documentary about the place, or one that at least touched on it, years ago and it immediately evoked a romantic tingle in me. This edition of the Speccie is, of course, largely lambasting multiculturalism and Aidan Hartley bemoans the way, in his view, India has turned into a khazi since independence, but I love these multikulti oddities scattered around the world’s globe. I am not nearly as well travelled as I would like to be, so am yet to see many of the places where the history has created a good old mix. One of the more accessible ones, practically and mentally, for Englanders like me, is Gibraltar. Anyone who’s been has assured me the mix is fascinating. There’s the obvious Britishness, and then there’s Spanishness galore, natch, but the name is Arabic and there’s a big Jewish population. And they seem to bumble along quite nicely, give or take the odd border spat and tourists having their bananas nicked off them by the barbary apes…

In any case, maybe Calcutta (which Hartley describes) is just a particular khazi. I have had much fun listening to Englanders’ stories from trips to Bombay and the environs… English friend asks on street where such-and-such a street is. Indian asks in posh English if he can have a look at the map. ‘Ah, you mean such-and-such (switch back to colonial name) a street…’ And, as same friend was taken out into the countryside from Bombay and was greeted with vistas of waterfalls and general perfection, he is told, having commented upon said beauty, ‘Ah yes, but nothing can rival your England. You have your lovely hedges, and your neat lawns.’ And this with mountains and waterfalls and elephants loping past the windscreen.

All good fun, in my view…

Getting to know you(rself) September 22, 2005

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Why fork out for a shrink, eh, when you can get Google Ads and Amazon to tell you everything you need to know about yourself with a couple of clicks? OK, I don’t want to overly belittle the therapeutic professions, but I must say the suggestions Amazon has given me, bossily, whenever I’ve clicked onto their site for a bit of a browse have really got me thinking. OK, OK, I know it’s just some computer no doubt recommending what other folks who’ve bought the books I have have also purchased, but they seem to have got me so spot on. Google Ads works by the same principle, of course, so I am not surprised to see half the ads which go unclicked on this site are for various things somehow to do with Belarus.

But of course it can throw up the odd red herring – red being the operative word here. How comforting to know that I am advertising a temple of revolutionary miscellanea on this site. Well, these hints can tell you both who you are and who you’re not, I suppose.

I don’t know if these latest election results express something of a revival for Ostalgie but, be that as it may, the fashion for such miscellanea can only, as with all other political/philosophical has-beens, show that an idea’s time has well and truly passed. There was even talk of East Germany having a fairground made in its ‘honour’; if that ain’t a sign the past is well and truly dead, I don’t know what is. And we’ve already had an utterly unserious DDR Show on German TV, presented by Katarina Witt, the former regime’s darling, and the German equivalent of Trisha (but male, and actually rather charming). Yet I can’t bollock the 25% of Ossies who voted for the former Commies. I don’t agree with their choice, of course, and think they are mistaken, but it must show that the other parties haven’t got their messages across well enough. The Linke/PDS wouldn’t want to revive the DDR, it goes without saying, but just what aspects of the former life was it the Ossies thought they were voting for? No-one honestly believes that they can somehow turn back the clock, surely? In any case, coalition talks are getting ever meatier. I’m also not one to believe these election results show Germany in some deep crisis, at least not as regards politics. We have had democratic elections. Yes, opinions are divided, and many may think many others have made a bad choice. But a coalition will be formed (or, if the worst comes to the worst, there’ll be new elections, though I can’t imagine that will happen) and the Germans will end up with the government they ‘deserve’. The big parties having to work together would still, in my view, potentially bear most fruit, though this would leave the opposition especially emaciated. But crisis? What crisis?

M. S(h)pindler September 21, 2005

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To keep on in a positive frame of mind, let me praise Marlen S(h)pindler (Марлен Шпиндлер) (it seems a touch prissy to transliterate phonetically when it is so clearly a German surname, hence the bracketed h) whose biography I came across and which opened another world; reading about the (interesting and scandal-heavy and rebellious) life-story of a fairly important modern Russian artist was very interesting. You can see some of his works here and here. I don’t suppose he’s quite important enough (yet) to feature at this exhibition, which, by all accounts, and by all logic, must be fantastic.

Belarant September 21, 2005

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There may be a hint of ‘flogging’ and ‘dead horses’ going on in this blog, as one or two of you may have noticed, on the subject of Belarus, but is that not the joy of blogging? Lukeski over at The Diary of Disenfranchised Booksellers muses,

The lunatic fringe(s) are really the greatest beneficiaries of the internet,

and he is right, but I plan to give them a run for their money, so here’s another little rantette about Belarus (and I wanted to blog something so that the first thing that met any potential reader’s eyes wasn’t the Soviet and North Korean coats of arms emblazoned across the screen).

No doubt there’ll have been many a click yesterday from your humble servant’s site to this site*, where the gentleman in question has a far larger (captive) audience. (By the way, the link is to the Russian-language page. Don’t bother clicking on the ‘eng’ in the top right-hand corner. No need.) And therein lies the crux of my Belarantette. The site is in Russian and English. That’s very cosmopolitan, even internationalist of you, Mr. President, but isn’t there room for another language on there and another little abbreviation – bel, say – in the top right-hand corner?

The Belarusian language was in a parlous state when independence came. I met some Belarusians when studying in Poland in 1992 and when we did the obligatory address-swapping at the end of the course, one young lady actually spelt her country’s name wrong, so new was the name to her in the native tongue (and she wasn’t spectacularly dim). Yet there began a proper revival of the language – and everything else, even democracy to start with – with independence, but that has been largely snuffed out since the collective-farm manager surged to power on a wave of neo-Soviet manic depression in 1994. Whereas university education, for example, had started being conducted in Belarusian, now even Belarusian-language schools are closed down. It’s a queer type of anti-nationalism Lukashenka displays. The political rumour mill had it his ultimate aim was to tag Belarus back on to Russia – that could still happen, but it looks less and less likely the longer time goes on – so that he could then run for the absolute top job. Imagine! Part of the technique seems to be to continue the russification begun in the late 18th century full steam ahead.

Well, ever the optimist, I remind myself there are elections next year. If not before, let’s hope something miraculous can happen then to prevent Luka scoring another elegant victory.

*Update. He’s only gone and put a Belarusian-language page up.

More coats of arms September 20, 2005

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I’m sure Kim Jong-Il won’t mind me reproducing his country’s coat of arms here (left) TOO much. Actually, you’ve got to give it to the Commies on the symbol front. They had/have some pretty good iconic stuff. My only trouble with the Soviet one (right) – very sadly no longer with us, but at least they restored the national anthem (with laughably bad words) – is that the globe appears to have a pair of alcoholic’s ears. What’s that got to do with anything? (Soviet coat of arms pic pilfered from Wikipedia, by the way.)